Alfred Feinberg (1883-1970), from ''Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends'' by Gertrude Landa, 1919
What are demons/sheydim/mazikeen?
How do you identify them?
ת"ר ששה דברים נאמרו בשדים שלשה כמלאכי השרת ושלשה כבני אדם שלשה כמלאכי השרת יש להם כנפים כמלאכי השרת וטסין מסוף העולם ועד סופו כמלאכי השרת ויודעין מה שעתיד להיות כמלאכי השרת
יודעין ס"ד אלא שומעין מאחורי הפרגוד כמלאכי השרת
ושלשה כבני אדם אוכלין ושותין כבני אדם פרין ורבין כבני אדם
ומתים כבני אדם ששה דברים נאמרו בבני אדם שלשה כמלאכי השרת שלשה כבהמה שלשה כמלאכי השרת יש להם דעת כמלאכי השרת ומהלכין בקומה זקופה כמלאכי השרת ומספרים בלשון הקדש כמלאכי השרת שלשה כבהמה אוכלין ושותין כבהמה ופרין ורבין כבהמה ומוציאין רעי כבהמה:
§ The Gemara returns to discussing the heavenly beings. The Sages taught: Six statements were said with regard to demons: In three ways they are like ministering angels, and in three ways they are like humans. The baraita specifies: In three ways they are like ministering angels: They have wings like ministering angels; and they fly from one end of the world to the other like ministering angels; and they know what will be in the future like ministering angels.
The Gemara is puzzled by this last statement: Should it enter your mind that they know this? Not even the angels are privy to the future. Rather, they hear from behind the curtain when God reveals something of the future, like ministering angels.
And in three ways they are similar to humans: They eat and drink like humans; they multiply like humans; and they die like humans.
Six statements were said with regard to humans: In three ways, they are like ministering angels, and in three ways they are like animals. The baraita explains: In three ways they are like ministering angels: They have intelligence like ministering angels; and they walk upright like ministering angels; and they speak in the holy tongue like ministering angels. In three ways humans are like animals: They eat and drink like animals; and they multiply like animals; and they emit excrement like animals.
תניא אבא בנימין אומר אלמלי נתנה רשות לעין לראות אין כל בריה יכולה לעמוד מפני המזיקין
אמר אביי אינהו נפישי מינן וקיימי עלן כי כסלא לאוגיא
אמר רב הונא כל חד וחד מינן אלפא משמאליה ורבבתא מימיניה
אמר רבא האי דוחקא דהוי בכלה מנייהו הוי הני ברכי דשלהי מנייהו הני מאני דרבנן דבלו מחופיא דידהו הני כרעי דמנקפן מנייהו
האי מאן דבעי למידע להו לייתי קיטמא נהילא ונהדר אפורייה ובצפרא חזי כי כרעי דתרנגולא האי מאן דבעי למחזינהו ליתי שלייתא דשונרתא אוכמתא בת אוכמתא בוכרתא בת בוכרתא ולקליה בנורא ולשחקיה ולימלי עיניה מניה וחזי להו ולשדייה בגובתא דפרזלא ולחתמי' בגושפנקא דפרזלא דילמא גנבי מניה ולחתום פומיה כי היכי דלא ליתזק רב ביבי בר אביי עבד הכי חזא ואתזק בעו רבנן רחמי עליה ואתסי:
In another baraita it was taught that Abba Binyamin says: If the eye was given permission to see, no creature would be able to withstand the abundance and ubiquity of the demons and continue to live unaffected by them.
Similarly, Abaye said: They are more numerous than we are and they stand over us like mounds of earth surrounding a pit.
Rav Huna said: Each and every one of us has a thousand demons to his left and ten thousand to his right. God protects man from these demons, as it says in the verse: “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; they will not approach you” (Psalms 91:7).
Summarizing the effects of the demons, Rava said: The crowding at the kalla, the gatherings for Torah study during Elul and Adar, is from the demons; those knees that are fatigued even though one did not exert himself is from the demons; those clothes of the Sages that wear out, despite the fact that they do not engage in physical labor, is from friction with the demons; those feet that are in pain is from the demons.
One who seeks to know that the demons exist should place fine ashes around his bed, and in the morning the demons’ footprints appear like chickens’ footprints, in the ash. One who seeks to see them should take the afterbirth of a firstborn female black cat, born to a firstborn female black cat, burn it in the fire, grind it and place it in his eyes, and he will see them. He must then place the ashes in an iron tube sealed with an iron seal [gushpanka] lest the demons steal it from him, and then seal the opening so he will not be harmed. Rav Beivai bar Abaye performed this procedure, saw the demons, and was harmed. The Sages prayed for mercy on his behalf and he was healed.
Nachmanides/Ramban (1194-1270) discusses demons in numerous places. He considers the term sheidim to be synonymous with ruchot,73 mazikim,74 and the Scriptural term se’irim.75 He describes them as being produced by witchcraft and possessing bodies composed of air that cannot be detected,76 along with the element of fire.77 Since they are composed of these light elements, they are able to fly,78 and since they travel in the sky, they are able to learn about future events from the angels of the constellations.79 Ramban also explains Chazal’s statement about demons eating like people 80 to mean that they also subsist on food—although theirs consists of evaporated moisture and smoke from fires.81 Ramban notes that some demons are assigned to various nations, “as is known from the wisdom of necromancy.”82
73 Commentary to Exodus 20:3 74 Commentary to Leviticus 16:8. 75 Ibid and Commentary to Leviticus 17:7. 76 Commentary to Exodus 7:11. 77 Commentary to Leviticus 17:7. 78 Ibid. 79 Commentary to Leviticus 17:7. 80 Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 16a. 81 Commentary to Leviticus 17:7. 82 Commentary to Exodus 20:3.
-in "Wrestling with Demons: A History of Rabbinic Attitudes to Demons" by Natan Slifkin
Where do Sheydim come from?
ואמר רבי ירמיה בן אלעזר כל אותן השנים שהיה אדם הראשון בנידוי הוליד רוחין ושידין ולילין שנאמר ויחי אדם שלשים ומאת שנה ויולד בדמותו כצלמו מכלל דעד האידנא לאו כצלמו אוליד
מיתיבי היה רבי מאיר אומר אדם הראשון חסיד גדול היה כיון שראה שנקנסה מיתה על ידו ישב בתענית מאה שלשים שנה ופירש מן האשה מאה שלשים שנה והעלה זרזי תאנים על בשרו מאה שלשים שנה
כי קאמרינן ההוא בשכבת זרע דחזא לאונסיה
Having cited an aggadic statement of Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar, the Gemara cites other statements of his: Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar said: All those years during which Adam was ostracized for the sin involving the Tree of Knowledge, he bore spirits, demons, and female demons, as it is stated: “And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth” (Genesis 5:3). By inference, until now, the age of one hundred thirty, he did not bear after his image, but rather bore other creatures.
The Gemara raises an objection from a baraita: Rabbi Meir would say: Adam the first man was very pious. When he saw that death was imposed as a punishment because of him, he observed a fast for a hundred thirty years, and he separated from his wife for a hundred thirty years, and wore belts [zarzei] of fig leaves on his body as his only garment for a hundred thirty years. If so, how did he father demons into the world?
The Gemara answers: When Rabbi Yirmeya made his statement, he meant that those destructive creatures were formed from the semen that Adam accidentally emitted, which brought the destructive creatures into being.
עֲשָׂרָה דְבָרִים נִבְרְאוּ בְּעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן, פִּי הָאָרֶץ, וּפִי הַבְּאֵר, וּפִי הָאָתוֹן, וְהַקֶּשֶׁת, וְהַמָּן, וְהַמַּטֶּה, וְהַשָּׁמִיר, וְהַכְּתָב, וְהַמִּכְתָּב, וְהַלּוּחוֹת. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, אַף הַמַּזִּיקִין, וּקְבוּרָתוֹ שֶׁל משֶׁה, וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, אַף צְבָת בִּצְבָת עֲשׂוּיָה:
Ten things were created on the eve of the [first] Shabbat at twilight. And these are they: The mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach in Numbers 16:32]; and the mouth of the well [that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness in Numbers 21:17]; and the mouth of the donkey [that spoke to Bilaam in Numbers 22:28–30]; and the rainbow [that served as a covenant after the flood in Genesis 9:13]; and the manna [that God provided the Israelites in the wilderness in Exodus 16:4–21]; and the staff [of Moshe]; and the shamir (the worm that helped build the Temple without metal tools); and the letters; and the writing; and the tablets [all of the latter three, of the Ten Commandments]. And some say, also the destructive spirits, and the burial place of Moshe, our teacher, and the ram of Abraham, our father. And some say, also the [first human-made] tongs, made with [Divine] tongs.
Demons in the Tanach?
The next day an evil spirit of God gripped Saul and he began to rave in the house, while David was playing [the lyre], as he did daily. Saul had a spear in his hand,
(1) גורל אחד לה' וגורל אחד לעזאזל, “one lot for the Lord and one lot for Azazel.” Ibn Ezra, [at the conclusion of his commentary on this verse, Ed.], writes that when we get to thirty three, we will be able to understand the meaning of this procedure. [At the beginning of his commentary, he had already hinted that there is a mystical element, kabbalah, in all this. Ed.] What he meant was that when we count the next thirty three verses in the Torah and we get to Leviticus 17,7, the Torah will explain that the procedure described here is meant to teach us not to sacrifice to Satanic forces in the universe anymore. These Satanic forces are symbolised by the scapegoat. Just as the bird released into the air by the priest performing the ritual of the person afflicted with tzoraat is perceived as taking away his former sins, so the scapegoat is supposed to do this on behalf of the whole Jewish nation on the day of Atonement. Ibn Ezra understands the word עזאזל as a combination of two words, similar to גלעד in Genesis 31,47 or to בנימין in Genesis 35,18 or ראובן in Genesis 29,32, and many others. Whereas the first male goat is offered to the Lord as a burnt offering, the second one is symbolically tendered of the Satanic forces, the complete destruction of that animal pointing at the uselessness of idolatry The two words לעז אזל, “it went to waste, to destruction ” symbolise this concept.
(7) and that they may offer their sacrifices no more to the goat-demons after whom they stray. This shall be to them a law for all time, throughout the ages.
Demons in Talmudic Legal Rulings
אמר רבא אם היו רואין את המתרה או המתרה רואה אותן מצטרפין אמר רבא מתרה שאמרו אפילו מפי עצמו ואפילו מפי השד
Apropos witnesses joining to constitute a set of witnesses, Rava says: Even if the witness in either window is unable to see the witness in the other window, if the witness in each window sees the one who is forewarning the accused, or if the one who is forewarning the accused could see the two disjointed witnesses, they join to constitute a set of witnesses. Rava says: The one forewarning the accused of whom the Sages spoke need not be a third witness, but even if the victim forewarns the murderer from his own mouth, and even if the forewarning emerged from the mouth of a demon, meaning the source of the forewarning is unknown, the forewarning is legitimate.
מתני׳ מעידין לאור הנר ולאור הלבנה ומשיאין על פי בת קול מעשה באחד שעמד על ראש ההר ואמר איש פלוני בן פלוני ממקום פלוני מת הלכו ולא מצאו שם אדם והשיאו את אשתו
ושוב מעשה בצלמון באחד שאמר אני איש פלוני בן איש פלוני נשכני נחש והרי אני מת והלכו ולא הכירוהו והלכו והשיאו את אשתו:
גמ׳ אמר רבה בר שמואל תנא בית שמאי אומרים אין משיאין על פי בת קול וב"ה אומרים משיאין על פי בת קול מאי קמ"ל מתני׳ היא הא קמ"ל דאי משתכחת סתמא דאין משיאין בית שמאי היא:
והלכו ולא מצאו: ודלמא שד הוה א"ר יהודה אמר רב שראו לו דמות אדם אינהו נמי דמו דחזו ליה בבואה ואינהו נמי אית להו בבואה דחזו ליה בבואה
דבבואה ודלמא לדידהו אית להו בבואה דבבואה אמר רבי חנינא אמר לי יונתן שידא בבואה אית להו בבואה דבבואה לית להו
ודלמא צרה הואי תנא דבי רבי ישמעאל בשעת הסכנה כותבין ונותנין אף על פי שאין מכירין:
MISHNA: Witnesses may testify that an individual died even if they saw his corpse only by candlelight or by moonlight. And the court may allow a woman to marry based on the statement of a disembodied voice proclaiming that her husband died. There was an incident with regard to a certain individual who stood at the top of a mountain and said: So-and-so, son of so-and-so, from such and such a place died. They went and found no person there, but even so they relied upon the statement and allowed the wife of the individual declared dead to marry.
And there was another incident in Tzalmon, a city in the Galilee, where a particular man said: I am so-and-so, son of so-and-so. A snake bit me and I am dying. And they went and found his corpse but could not recognize him, yet they went ahead and allowed his wife to marry based on what he said in his dying moments.
GEMARA: Rabba bar Shmuel said: It was taught in a baraita that Beit Shammai say: The judges of a court may not allow a woman to marry based on the statement of a disembodied voice; they require actual testimony. And Beit Hillel say: The judges may allow a woman to marry based on the statement of a disembodied voice. The Gemara asks: What is Rabba bar Shmuel teaching us here? This is simply our mishna, since the decisive ruling follows Beit Hillel’s opinion. The Gemara answers that he teaches us this: That if an anonymous mishna or baraita is found that states that the judges may not allow a woman to marry under such circumstances, it is simply the opinion of Beit Shammai, and is not the accepted ruling.
With regard to the incident where they heard a disembodied voice but went and found no person there, which is mentioned in the mishna, the Gemara asks: Perhaps it was a demon. Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: They saw that he had the form of a person, so they knew it was not a demon. The Gemara asks: They, i.e., demons, also appear similar to people. The Gemara answers: They saw that he had a shadow. The Gemara asks: But they also have a shadow.
The Gemara answers: It was a case where they saw that he had a shadow of a shadow. The Gemara asks: But perhaps they also have a shadow of a shadow? Rabbi Ḥanina said: Yonatan the demon expert said to me: They have a shadow, but they do not have a shadow of a shadow.
The Gemara asks: And perhaps it was a rival wife, or some other enemy of that man’s wife, who cried out that her husband was dead and then fled, in order to trick her into disgracing herself by remarrying while her husband was still alive? The Gemara answers: The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: During a period of danger, one may write and give a bill of divorce to a woman, although the witnesses do not know the husband, because we do not raise many suspicions at such a time. This case was similar to a period of danger in that they did not find witnesses that her husband died, and therefore the court did not require further clarification.
The Succubus Demon Queens
Eisheth Zenonim - discussed in the Zohar 1:4b-5a
Said Rabbi Eleazar: "What is the occult meaning of the words, 'In the shadow of mine hand have I hid thee?'" (Is. 51:16)
Rabbi Simeon replied: "When the secret doctrine and its hidden mysteries was delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai myriads of angels endeavored, through jealousy, to consume him with their fiery breath. Then the Holy One covered him with his hand, so that they did him no hurt. Also, with the word of which we have just described proceeding from human lips, it also is covered and protected from the wrath and envy of angels, until it becomes a new heaven or a new earth; for then only become they uncovered and their meaning revealed. This is furthermore shown by the words, 'Say unto Sion Ammi Atha' (thou art my people). They should rather be rendered, 'Immi Atha' (thou art with me), with me as an associate, just as my word was with me when I created the world, as it is written: 'By the word of the Lord the heavens were made.'(Ps. 33:6) And so it is with words containing mysteries of the secret doctrine uttered by us. We become creators, and happy- am! blessed are I hey who consecrate themselves to the study and teaching of this holy science and knowledge.
If, however, you say that such a word may proceed from or be spoken by one who has no knowledge or understanding of sacred mysteries, observe that, if this should happen, then the word spoken by one who is ignorant of the secret doctrine is seized hold of by a demon called aishtahphucoth (froward lips), who casts it into the great abyss when it becomes a false heaven, and know as Tohu(vanity). When this heaven of falsehood is formed, forthwith it becomes united with another demon named ehseth zenonim (אֵשֶׁת זְנוּנִים or lady of seductions), who causeth the ruin and destruction of thousands and as long as this false heaven subsists and power and rule predominate.
Therefore is it written: 'Woe unto you who draw iniquity (avon) with cords of vanity and sin (hatah), as with a cart rope.'(Isa 5:18) What is Hatah? It is this seductress who, proceeding from this world of vanity, destroyeth the children of man. The cause of all this is the student who has not attained to the wisdom and science of an initiate or master. God preserve us from becoming such! See to it, therefore, that ye let not a single word escape your lips concerning divine mysteries without understanding or before consulting with a master that ye may not be originators of Hatah, and thus cause the destruction and ruin of many souls."
With one accord exclaimed the students of Rabbi Simeon: "God keep and preserve us from this!"
Na'amah, Lilith, and Agrat bat Machlat - discussed in the Zohar 1:55a
Said Rabbi Hiya: "What signify the words 'And the sister of Tubal Cain was Naamah' (gentleness), and wherefore was this name given her? Was it to indicate that she possessed the power of seducing both human and angelic beings?"
Said Rabbi Isaac: "She overcame Aza and Azael who in scripture are called 'sons of God.'"
Said Rabbi Simeon: "She was the procreatrix of all the demons of Cainite origin, and she it is that along with Lilith afflicts infant children with epileptic diseases."
Said Rabbi Abba to Rabbi Simeon: "Master, you have stated she was so called because she inspired men with carnal desires."
Said Rabbi Simeon: "That is true, for though she excites lust in human beings, yet this does not prevent her from afflicting young children and thus she continues her operations in the world up to the present time."
Said Rabbi Abba: "Seeing that demons and elementals are subject to death, wherefore do Naamah and Lilith continue to exist through the ages?"
Rabbi Simeon replied: "All demons and elementaries do indeed die, but Naamah and Lilith together with Agereth, daughter of Mahlath their offspring, abide in the world until the day that the Holy One will banish and drive all evil and impure spirits out of the world; as it is written, 'And I will cause the unclean spirit to pass out of the land' (Zach. xiii., 2). Woe unto those who are ignorant and therefore unable to avert and ward off the influence of these defiling elemental beings that swarm in their myriads throughout the world. If it were permitted to behold them, we should be amazed and confounded and wonder how the world could continue to exist. Observe that Naamah being the exciter of human concupiscence and carnality, it is obligatory on everyone to practice and perform acts and rites of purification, so that he may become and preserve himself pure and undefiled."